UK paper to use Bombay instead of Mumbai a cheap trick

Nirpal Dhaliwal
Nirpal DhaliwalFeb 11, 2016 | 09:52

UK paper to use Bombay instead of Mumbai a cheap trick

So Amol Rajan, the avowedly proud British-Indian editor of The Independent newspaper has declared his publication will revert to calling Bombay exactly that from now on - only a mere 21 years after its official name-change to Mumbai, and long after Indians have by and large become accustomed to it. It is a gesture that throws light on the ignorance, confused identities and neurotic posturing of many British-Indians in their attitude to India.


If Rajan had any real insight and was honest, he would admit that the overwhelming bulk of Indians will live out their lives and die never having heard of his newspaper - let alone of him (in truth, the same could be said of most Britons: The Independent has the lowest circulation by far of the UK's national press). His pronouncements on Indian politics are wholly worthless - an embarrassment, in fact.

The opinion of a British journalist will never mean anything in India - and I include myself in that judgment. The price of onions and Shah Rukh Khan's preferred brand of toothpaste will always be of a trillion times more relevance to its people - and rightly so. A short missive written in Hindi and posted to the letters page of Dainik Jagran - a paper that has 60 times the circulation of The Independent - would have have had infinitely more impact than Rajan's pointless flapping on the matter.

Aged only 32, Rajan is a prodigy in the British media. It is hard to believe he is stupid enough to think that his editorial decision carries any weight in India, where only a tiny English-speaking Anglophile few will ever notice it. His decision has, of course, nothing to do with India at all, but is in fact all about Britain, and where he as an ambitious British-Indian now embedded in this country's establishment can best position himself.


Hearing him on the BBC giving a cursory history lesson on Mumbai's history to justify himself - full of tired old platitudes about the city's cosmopolitanism versus the nationalism of the Shiv Sena - it was clear that he was attempting to pose as an outspoken authority on India, contriving an aura of international glamour for himself. Among Indians, he's merely another pardesi show-off, in the mould of Pankaj Mishra or Salman Rushdie, peddling a bogus expertise on the country, but for Britons - grappling as they are to understand a world that grows increasingly beyond their comprehension - he will be a comforting anchor, sustaining their delusion that their country possesses people who not only understand India but even wield influence over it. His CV here in the UK will be well enhanced by it.

British NRIs are a peculiar folk. Their achievements, like those of NRIs worldwide, are extraordinary, but they pale in comparison to those accomplished by NRIs in the USA for example. But while titans like Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, Satya Nadella of Microsoft or Ajay Banga of Mastercard feel no need to pontificate on India's internal, democratically decided politics, Amol Rajan - a complete nobody by comparison - cannot resist the urge to wag his finger from his baby-chair.


American desis are much more comfortable in their relationship with modern India. They see in India today the same energy, ambition and disregard for the past that attracted them to the USA, and are overwhelmingly supportive of the direction the country is taking and are investing a great deal of money and effort in helping that along. But for British NRIs, raised in the land of their former imperial overlords, the relationship is tainted with self-loathing and a delusional colonial hangover about Britain's innate superiority.

Rajan reveals an implicit contempt for the Indian people when he flouts their decision to call their financial capital Mumbai. Unpopular as the choice may have been among certain sections at the time, it was made by a democratically elected state government and has been retained since. Rajan's condescending disrespect for the Indian electorate mirrors that shown by the British press during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to London, portraying him as some sort of villainous tyrant - "Hold your nose and shake Modi by the hand" read one headline in The Times - rather than as what he actually is: the duly elected leader of half the democratic world.

Such pontificating rubbish is unthinkable anywhere else. But pontificating is now the national pastime in Britain, where, as its power declines, its people continue to believe the nation's position on everything from global warming to the American presidential elections is of genuine practical value. Rajan is a victim of that same neurosis.

On the BBC, he spoke of valuing the historic openness of India and waxed lyrically about the Nehruvian era of tolerant pluralism, conveniently forgetting Nehru's military annexations of Goa and Hyderabad. He also forgot the fascistic suspension of the constitution during the Emergency, and everything else that conflicted with his ignoramus romantic vision of India before the BJP's rise to power. Indian politics has always been dirty - ask the Sikhs of Delhi - and it takes a profoundly neurotic degree of denial to think that its politics has grown any dirtier. Indeed, if anything, India is today more open and engaged with the world - culturally, politically and commercially - than it's ever been.

This silly little episode reveals the tragedy of British-Indians, who anxiously seek to best place themselves, as Rajan does, in the small and, in global terms, rapidly shrinking narrative of Britain, rather than within the vast and increasingly expanding narrative of modern India. This narrowness of mind is a great loss to Britain, which would benefit greatly from NRIs who can engage realistically and dynamically with India and build a productive rapport between the two countries.

India is now the fastest growing economy in the world. As India grows richer and more powerful, NRIs who assist in that journey will grow rich and powerful too. But in Britain, as Rajan's empty bit of grandstanding highlights, very few of them are actually poised to do that.

Last updated: February 11, 2016 | 15:37
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